My New Hiking Project Finally Takes Off
This new project of mine has been in the making for long. Far too long actually, if you ask me. But it looks as if I can soon move from thinking about it to actually getting started with it. Finally. And more than a year behind schedule. Honestly, I can’t wait to get going. But wait a minute; what am I actually talking about? Well…. I am talking about a new walking project of mine. A project I have been playing around with for some time. A project have been changing over and over again until it finally felt right. A project that might take up to two years to complete.
Trail-Walking As An Above-Knee-Amputee
As many of you know, I love walking. Just love it. Full stop. For me walking is the perfect mode of getting from one place to another. I enjoy the slow pace that allows me to fully immerse myself in whatever region I find myself in. Being out on foot provides plenty of opportunities to observe all the wonders nature has to offer; the big and obvious ones that stand out and catch your attention as well as the small and easy-to-miss ones along the untrodden path. I love the fact that I have everything a need with me, stacked away in my backpack, without depending on anyone else. And I adore the freedom it gives me to move independently and set up camp where it feels right.
So it comes as no surprise that I have been dreaming about longer hikes for some time. Something special. Something I haven’t done before. And something that would take me to new places. After countless hours of playing around with a wide range of more or less convincing ideas, after burying myself in guidebooks, after chatting with friends and other outdoor enthusiasts, and after putting wild ideas through a bit of a reality check I finally found my new project. One that looked like it's offering the right balance between a good challenge on the one hand while being possible and enjoyable on the other hand. In short: One that felt right.
Narrowing Down An Endless List Of Tempting Options
The initial idea was the following: In year one (originally that was supposed to be 2020) I wanted to tackle four 100km sections of four different long-distance hikes here in Germany, doing so in four different seasons. Germany has plenty of amazing long-distance hikes, ranging from rather gentle strolls along rivers with short-ish daily sections and more or less no elevations to very demanding and arduous adventures in the Alps that are only for experienced hikers and are not to be underestimated.
My intention was to start in spring of 2020 with five or six sections of the Bergisch Trail as it passes right though my town. Later on in the year I had planned to explore the wilderness of the Eifel and either the eastern region of the German Alps or the Harzer Hexensteig further to the east before closing the year with a rather easy walk along the River Lahn.
If this first year would work out fine, I had already plans for taking this project to the next level in the following year. In 2021, so my plan, I wanted to tackle another four long-distance walks, again in four different seasons of the year, but this time in four different countries. The highlight was planned for September 2021 (my 50th birthday) where I aimed to walk in Italy, following in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi. A bit of quality me-time to celebrate 50 years on this planet and be thankful for all that life has thrown at me so far.
A Global Pandemic And A Belly-Flop Of A Plan
That was the plan. A great plan, I thought. A plan I was really passionate about. And as so many plans, this one fell flat on its belly when it met reality. As you all know, February and March 2020 saw the beginning of the Covid19 pandemic, worldwide as well as here in Germany. And with it came a major threat to the survival of my business. I work as a consultant, trainer, and advisor in the wider field of international development cooperation, conflict transformation, and peacebuilding. Most of my work depends in traveling - mainly to Asia and Africa - on the one hand and face to face interaction and offering training courses often here in Germany on the other hand. With Covid19 on a rampage all that was up for grabs. Within weeks, all my work for the first half of the year was cancelled and I needed to develop alternative, online-based services and products. And I needed to do so quickly and before I’d go bust.
This meant 70-80 hour working weeks, convincing customers that online options will be available in time, meeting their needs, and being a high quality and enjoyable alternative to the traditional ways of working. It meant finding new routines as a family, with three kids in homeschooling. And it meant battling with internet connections that were not used to endless - and often parallel - Zoom sessions per day, while at the same time trying to stay sane and optimistic.
But the pandemic and the need to focus on work as well as on home schooling was not the only challenge that threw a spanner into the wheels of my hiking project. With Covid19 came the lockdowns and the restrictions on movement. In addition I was struggling with the fit of my prosthesis. The socket and I often were not on good terms, to say the least. I had days when a long walk was not a problem and I was able to bag 20k hikes easily. And I had days when the thing was just falling off and making it to the grocery store 500 meters down the road was a real challenge and only possible when I - quite literally - grabbed the upper rim of the socket with my hand and held it in place. Not ideal to tackle a hiking project.
So soon I had to face it. It became clear to me that the walking project was off and needed to be shelved for the time being.
My January Walking Challenge And A New Mindset
Fast forward to late 2020. On Instagram I stumbled across Sean Conway’s 496 challenge. In order to get himself back into running he came up with the idea of making January the time for a new challenge. Sean set out to commit to a run for each day of January, slowly increasing the length of each run. So he started with one kilometer on January 1. Then two kilometers on January 2. Three on three on January third. You get the idea. And yes, his aim was to increase to daily milage to 31 kilometers for January 31. That would add up to 496 kilometers in a month. Not a bad idea, I thought.
And while I knew that this was beyond me pay grade, I was pretty confident that I could come up with my own version teasing me out of my comfort zone while getting me fit at the same time. So I decided to join Sean and his crew for the first 16 days of the 496 challenge before slowly cutting down my daily amount of kilometers again so that by January 31 I would be back at a walk of a single kilometer. And yes, I would replace running with walking. I knew if I go through with this challenge I would be ready and back in the right mindset for my walking project.
And sticking with it I did. Each and every day I was out exploring the area I live in. No matter the weather, no matter other commitments, no matter how I felt that day, I did my daily walk. And I loved it. Quickly these times out by myself became a cherished feature of my days. I soon noticed a changing mind-set. On some days I had to split the walk between a morning session, then had to get work done and be there for the family before tackling the second session after dinner. About ten days into the walk I noticed that even starting for a seven or eight kilometer walk at ten in the nights was not a big issue. Something I could easily get done in about 90 minutes. And something I was actually enjoying.
But the January walking challenge was not only great to get fit and develop a more active mindset again. It was also great to learn more about my socket and how to adapt it to my needs and my level of activity. The fact that I did all these walks - close to 300 kilometers in January alone - aloud me to see the socket in action in a variety of situations. Early in the morning, late at night, over the course of long walks done more or less in one go and others split up into sections, when drinking a lot on some walks while not taking in any fluids during others walks, playing around with additional padding to the socket etc. While I always use my diagnostic socket for a long time and try to put it through the miles, I think it’s fair to say that no other socket of mine has seen this much milage in such a short time. And we learned a lot in these few weeks.
So, what next?
It’s now February 2021. Covid19 still has a firm grip on our region and we are still far away from a normal life (what ever that might be). But there is no reason not to start with the new walking project soon. Very soon actually. In mid March I will have a few days off. Enough time to tackle the first hike; i.e. 100 km of the Bergisch Trail. Due to the current Covid situation and in order to comply with the rules and regulations I will return home each evening. As the trail passes through our town and as all of the sections are very close to where I live - some of them easily accessible by public means -, this is not a big issue. While it takes away some of the beauty of being on a longer hike, I think it’s a prize well worth paying. And best of all: It allows me to finally get going. Hopefully things will look even better for the second hike in May. If the situation allows, the spring hike will be a self-supported five to six day hike where I spend the nights on the trail.
If you want to get all the updates for this project, make sure you follow me on Instagram and check out the updates right here on my blog. I will report regularly from the trail and keep you all informed about the four seasons, four regions of Germany, four long distance hikes project. And hopefully also the international version in 2022.
Post by Bjoern Eser. Bjoern is the founder of The Active Amputee.